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New CITES Regulation Impacts International Import/Export of Rosewood Instruments

On January 2nd, 2017, a new regulation came into effect that requires official documentation — and in a lot of cases, fees — when shipping rosewood (and certain types of bubinga, too) in or out of the country.

Why Are We Reporting This?

This information is important because a lot of guitars contain rosewood (a very common fretboard wood), as do a great number of other musical instruments. So this will obviously impact their import and export, and “re-export” too — a new term to me that simply means exporting something that was originally imported.

Who/What is CITES?

CITES is an acronym for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. At a conference held in late 2016, this body ruled that all rosewood species of the genus Dalbergia, and also three species of bubinga, are to be protected. Since Brazilian Rosewood is already under CITES protection, this means that now all rosewood is protected.

Are Guitars To Blame for Endangering These Woods?

Guitars are not guilty! The booming high-end furniture business is primarily to blame for the devastating deforestation that deemed this move necessary. Unfortunately, even though guitars use a relatively miniscule percentage of the protected woods, they are impacted as “collateral damage” while the woods are protected from overharvesting for other industries.

Who’s Enforcing This?

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with enforcement. CITES created the regulation, and the US Fish and Wildlife folk will see that it is enforced.

What Impact Will This Have?

As you can imagine, the number of guitars with rosewood fretboards alone that cross international borders each day is pretty mind boggling. It’s still early, but due to the certification, fees, and extra man-hours required, prices of instruments that use the protected woods could well rise.

How Strictly Will This Be Enforced?

Ironically, I can answer this question firsthand, as I have quite literally just been impacted. During my long and enjoyable tenure working for Marshall, I spent many hours in England doing sonic testing of amps. Because I was based in the USA, I left one of my favorite Jackson Soloists in England to minimize the risk of it being lost or damaged by airlines as I traveled back and forth. I asked for the guitar to be returned to me at the end of last year (2016) since I had made the decision to come work here at Sweetwater.

Neither I nor anyone else involved was aware of this new regulation, so the axe was properly documented and put in a shipping container. It arrived in the US after January 2, 2017. The paperwork was in order, so the container made it through US Customs and was delivered to a warehouse. Only then did I discover that, as a result of this much-loved, road-worn single axe, the entire contents of the container had been detained by US Customs after delivery! I was asked to supply a photo of me using the instrument (fortunately, I found one of me playing a show with comedian Jim “Goat Boy” Breuer in Long Island in the early 2000s) and a letter verifying that the instrument was personal property. Now I can only wait and hope I’ll get my much-missed Jackson back.

So, yes: this regulation is being enforced…with Judge Dredd-like stoic strictness. Ignore it at your peril — and that of your instrument.

IMPORTANT FOOTNOTE: Apparently this regulation does not apply to instruments carried for personal use when traveling internationally, unless they contain over 22 lbs. of a protected wood (which would be one heavy guitar). So if you want to take your axe on holiday overseas, you’ll be fine, and you won’t be fined, either!

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